The Politics of Precaution: Regulating Health, Safety, and Environmental Risks in Europe and the United States

By David Vogel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Chemicals and Hazardous Substances

THIS CHAPTER COMPARES European and American regulations for the health, safety, and environmental risks of chemicals and hazardous substances.

The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) significantly strengthened American chemical regulations and contributed to the 1979 decision of the European Union to both harmonize and strengthen its chemical regulations, though they remained weaker than those of the United States. While there has been no major statutory change in American chemical regulation since then, in 2006 the EU approved REACH—the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals, which made European chemical regulations significantly more stringent and comprehensive than those of the United States.

The Commission’s decision to revise and strengthen European chemical regulations was in part a response to a substantial increase in public concern about chemical risks in Europe. The provisions of REACH were also influenced by the precautionary principle on which the Commission had issued an important White Paper in 2000. Its enactment was made possible by support for new chemical regulations by a powerful coalition of member states, including Sweden, which had joined the EU in 1995, the backing of DG Environment within the European Commission (EC), and pro-environmental members of the European Parliament (EP). While chemical risks have also been salient in the United States, they have been more narrowly focused, and proposals to strengthen American chemical regulation have not occupied a prominent place on the national political agenda.

Two related directives, WEEE—the Directive on Wastes from Electronics and Electrical Equipment, and RoHS—the Directive on Restrictions of Hazardous Substances, both approved in 2003, impose restrictions on hazardous substances in electronics and electrical equipment, and require the recycling and reuse of e-waste. There are no comparable federal regulations, though some states have adopted regulations that are similar to those of the EU.

The provisions of WEEE and RoHS reflected a broad commitment on the part of the European Commission to address the full life-cycle impacts of products in order to reduce their environmental “footprint”

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